Despite widespread reports in the media today, British Airways has ruled out following low-cost and US carriers in charging for meals and other add-ons.
Speaking at the World Low Cost Airlines Congress in London, chief executive Willie Walsh insisted that “unbundling” – charging separately for things like seat allocation, check-in and baggage – would not work for BA. He said: “Unbundling is a step too far – it’s a part of the service. With Ryanair, you have to pay to queue, you have to pay to get off the aircraft… It’s not a model that would work for the legacy carriers.”
Several news outlets reported that Walsh had said he was planning to charge for “extras”, but a BA spokeswoman confirmed: “He talked in general terms about what legacy carriers can learn from low-cost carriers in terms of website use, but saying that we’re going to charge for seat allocation, catering and assigned seating is not correct.”
BA is, however, planning to introduce “dynamic packaging” – selling hotel rooms and other extras along with flights – on its website “later this year”. Full details have not yet been released.
Walsh also ruled out any BA involvement in a bid for Gatwick. “Our strategic objectives can be achieved in other ways,” he said. “There are more important things for us to do with our money in the present climate.”
On the subject of BA’s merger talks with Iberia, Walsh said that “good progress” was being made and that the deal could be finalised by next March. He said: “I hope that within four to six weeks we’ll be able to issue a statement regarding the structure and corporate governance, and then move to complete the deal as quickly as possible.”
In the wake of Ruth Kelly’s resignation on Wednesday, Walsh said she had done a “very good job” as Secretary of State for Transport, and urged her successor to follow her lead in pressing for expansion at Heathrow. “I see it as the most critical issue facing government in the UK,” he said. “For Heathrow to be able to compete at an international level, it needs capacity. We’re talking about a piece of national infrastructure, and it must be addressed.”
Report by Sara Turner